As this author knows from personal experience, winter tyres offer significantly more grip, stability and higher levels of safety than a conventional tread in lower temperatures. However, they are seasonal tyres. Which raises the question: when should you change to winter tyres? Here we offer some advice.
A slippery trip to Finland
First let me give you a graphic illustration of how well winter tyres work and how much more grip they give.
Some years ago, I was driving in the Arctic Circle on a press trip, in a showroom-standard Ford Mondeo. The only difference was that it had been fitted with winter tyres.
We drove north through Finland, where the night-time temperature dropped to below minus 20 degrees. Here the road surface was so slippery that we had to hold onto the bonnet to stay upright – yet for the previous hour we had been motoring along quite happily at 40 mph or so with barely a slide. That is how effective winter tyres can be.
Winter tyres roughly halve the stopping distance on a freezing road compared to a summer tyre. They also offer extra support when going up or down a hill, accelerating and cornering.
Some drivers say that because UK winters tend to be damp and cool (as opposed to sub-zero), there is no need for winter tyres. The argument is also that modern tyres are now engineered for different conditions, so swapping seems unnecessary. However, once you have experienced a situation like I have, you might think twice.
How winter tyres work
Once the thermometer drops below 7 degrees above freezing, normal rubber starts to lose the elasticity it needs to properly grip the road. In contrast, winter tyres have a different mix of ingredients, with more silica in their compound. This allows them to retain that flexing.
The tread pattern also has a different design, with deeper grooves which `bite’ into the snow or ice. This is combined with wider grooves and sipes, which give better drainage for cutting through deep puddles or slush.
When to switch to winter tyres
I use the rule of thumb that you should change to the winter rubber when the average temperature consistently drops below seven degrees.
That said, winter tyres are season specific and will soon be damaged if you drive on them in warmer weather.
The compound will wear faster, and you will have less grip and stability in braking and cornering. Therefore, take that seven degrees as your guide and swap when the temperature average changes above or below this.
Regarding cost, there is a slight premium over a summer tyre. However, bear in mind that you are far less likely to have an accident, which may affect your insurance premium.
Remember that 50% improvement in stopping power – what price do you put on that?
Winter tyre myths
While we are on the winter tyre subject, there are a couple of common myths that I’d like to clear up.
The first is that if you fit winter tyres you can save money by only fitting two, on the axle feeding the power to the road. This is completely wrong and you really should not mix tyre types. Quite apart from the loss of grip on one axle, the police and your insurer might have something to say if you are in a bump.
The second is that it is dangerous and possibly illegal to use summer tyres but reduce the air pressure in them in wintry conditions. As with any other piece of engineering, tyres work best when they are used as they are designed to be. That means keeping the recommended pressures. Letting air out does not increase grip – in fact, quite the opposite. It will make the vehicle far less stable and prematurely wear – or even damage – the tread.
Winter tyres are not just for snow and ice and it would be more helpful and accurate to call them cold-weather tyres which is what they are.
But you do have to remember to only use them when appropriate and for that you should be guided by the average temperature over a few days.
For any advice on this topic or help in sourcing a winter tyre for your vehicle, call our team today. Use out search facility at the top of the page to find winter tyres and have them fitted the very next day.